Hemlock's Diary
22-28 Apr 2007
Mon, 23 Apr
How about shorting the Pound against the Yen?  One spotty accountant, one Deputy Managing Director and one Company Gwailo pass the time indulging in financial flights of fancy as they wait for the Big Boss to arrive and start the morning meeting.  The question goes unanswered.  Our visionary Chairman strides into the conference room with a grim look on his face, followed by a distraught Staff Discipline and Correction Manager Doris Pang.  He gets straight down to business.   Something momentous and extremely painful must be announced to all employees.  He tries to put a brave face on it.  “This will cut costs.  The intention is purely to increase profits, and therefore increase value for the shareholders,” he declares, thinking no doubt of a particularly venomous aunt in Singapore, who constantly harangues him about how much better dividends were when his father was in charge.

In the framed black and white photo on the wall of the conference room, the founder and first Chairman of the company peers out of his iron lung in the direction of his son.  Would he turn in his grave if he saw this?  Or is this something he would have done ages ago?  “We must make it absolutely clear to staff that this is not being done for their benefit,” splutters our visionary leader.  “They must work even harder than before.  Every single minute!  And there will be more minutes every day.”  He scowls and mumbles something about the knowledge economy. 

Like some other Hong Kong tycoons, he is frustrated.  On the one hand, he knows that when you pay someone, you own them.  If chains were cheaper and didn’t attract bad publicity or infringe the terms of statutory employee compensation insurance, he would attach employees to their desks with them.  The longer people on the payroll are away from their families, unable to have fun or do what they would really like, the more value he gets out of them – it’s a simple, zero-sum trade-off.  On the other hand, as a fully paid-up Friend of Donald, he yearns for the continued approval of Sir Bow-Tie.  But the dashing Chief Executive has his ‘election’ out of the way and is no longer bothering to be so attentive to his plutocratic electorate.  So our titan of business is trying to curry favour by falling into line with one of Tsang’s eccentric ideas – letting people rest a bit.  As of the end of May, S-Meg Holdings will have a five-day week.
Tue, 24 Apr
The death of Boris Yeltsin (b. 1931) comes as a surprise to those of us who had forgotten his liver had held out this long.  Bringing down communism, dismantling the Soviet Union and establishing something vaguely like democracy in a region that never fully replaced Tartar barbarism with European enlightenment is a noteworthy achievement. Doing it while drunk – that takes a certain style.  Then again, maybe it was the only way.  No one sober would bother trying.  His 76 years at death, while well above a Russian male’s average life expectancy, means that he probably passed away untouched by the curse of senility.  What a pity this cannot be said about some of Asia’s outstanding leaders.  Like Hopewell Holdings boss Gordon Wu – the tycoon who not only looks like a potato but thinks like one, and who turned up at a Civic Party debate on functional constituencies yesterday only to admit he knew nothing about the things.

And then there is poor old Lee Kuan Yew.  For decades he has been lapsing into ever-longer and deeper episodes of drooling derangement, during which he imagines he is an expert on everything from the selective breeding of university-educated ethnic Chinese, to how everyone else’s countries should be run, to the practice of bankrupting opponents as an electoral tactic.  And now, he is on the verge of coming out and telling the world he is gay.  What’s more he has inadvertently highlighted a bizarre little flaw in the system Google uses to categorize news stories, which leaves a report about the Lion City’s possible building of Dutch-style sea defences in the list of stories about its Minister Mentor rambling away about how homosexuality is fine, when everyone knows Asians don’t do that sort of thing.
Wed, 25 Apr
From a distance, the Mid-Levels Escalator appears deserted this morning.  On closer inspection, however, it transpires that Hong Kong’s disenfranchised, taxpaying and hard-working middle class are gliding down the hill into Central flat on their backs, having swooned in shock on hearing that the boss of a parasitic, empire-building and pointless public-sector institution has
resigned out of shame.

Until last Thursday, no-one had ever heard of the Applied Science, Geomancy and Technology Research Institute, let alone Robert Yang, the water-divining voodoo practitioner masterminding Hong Kong’s flowering as a world centre for Nobel-winning breakthroughs in micro-electronics, anti-gravity engines, time travel and the rest.  Then the Government Auditor revealed that these serious men in white coats, dedicated to the rational investigation of observable, empirical and measurable phenomena, had hired a feng shui man.  The greasy haired gentleman in his shabby suit had wandered around the laboratories waving his magic compass and advising that particle accelerators be painted red, clocks mounted on south-facing supercomputers, little octagonal mirrors attached to Bunsen burners and,small patches of carpet placed near doors, to improve flows of invisible life forces so wonderful discoveries will take place and everyone will get rich and that’ll be HK$180,000 please. 

Being Taiwanese, and therefore probably starting every day by gargling with his own urine, Mr Yang is not as other leaders of our publicly financed, space-wasting organizations, so it is unlikely that his counterparts in trade, productivity, tourism and other bodies will follow his honourable example.  He should be stuffed and mounted in a glass case next to the jacuzzi at the Government Efficiency Unit.

Meanwhile, just five years after a Watson Wyatt survey of unimpeachable integrity showed that civil servants were paid over 200 percent more than people who perform wealth-creating work for a living, a repeat exercise under civil service supervision shows they get paid
pretty much the same.  In the intervening period, they have had a pay cut smaller than the rate of deflation – a raise, in real terms – while most private-sector incomes have risen by single digits at best.  Since it is totally unthinkable that the Government would rig the result, we must struggle to understand how this could happen.  Has work by Robert Yang’s geniuses slipped the Big Lychee into a parallel universe where time and space as we understand them do not exist, and air-conditioning allowances, education allowances, subsidized housing and pensions for life do not count as remuneration?  Being rational, I see no other explanation.
Thurs, 26 Apr
I start the day with a prayer to
Snotra, the greatly underappreciated Norse goddess of prudence, wisdom, courtesy, self-discipline and other values the ancient northern Europeans had so little time for that they bundled them up into one deity.  Thunder got an entire god all to itself – Thor, whose day it is today, hence Donnertag, or thunder day, in German.  Yesterday was Wodin’s day, for the supreme being, and the day before that was Tiu’s day, for the god of war – Mars to the Romans, hence Mardi in French.  And tomorrow is named for Freya, goddess of reproductive matters.  It would be fitting for Saturday to be renamed Snotday, but this is probably one of those things like Esperanto, or measuring people’s heights in centimeters, that just isn’t going to catch on.

Pondering these profundities over a bowl of steaming congee at Yuet Yuen Restaurant with delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip, I suddenly remember that I am on a mission.  The idea is to convince the Government to buy a copy of the soon-to-be-published
How I Trashed Asia’s Greatest City by Tung Chee-hwa for each and every member of the civil service.  My rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest it would be worth several million dollars in royalties.  In order to whet bureaucratic appetites, I give Winky the galley proofs to look through.  She runs her finger down the contents page.

“I don’t know why,” she tells me, “but I’m getting the impression that the first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, now Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, isn’t going to come out of this stupid book of yours looking quite as dazzlingly successful as some might wish to portray him.”

I beg to differ.  “This will be the only truly objective account of the 10 years since the handover,” I inform her.  “What will the Government’s official story be at the coming anniversary?  Crowds of grinning all-ethnic Chinese schoolgirls waving flags and throwing their panties at the glorious motherland’s first astronaut.  Property tycoons solemnly declaring their patriotism.  Sir Donald Tsang wearing a Communist Party bow-tie and fighting back the tears as a People’s Liberation Army soldier raises the red flag at a ceremony at Bauhinia Square.”  The elegantly attired public servant winces slightly.

“Meanwhile,” I continue, “how will the pro-democrats look back at the post-1997 decade of doom?  Emily Lau marching up and down screeching that we don’t have freedom of speech any more, at 100 decibels.  Martin Lee depressing everyone almost to the point of suicide with his hand-wringing about betrayal.  And what about the foreign press?  They’ll just go for clichés – chefs swinging noodle dough against a backdrop of skyscrapers, while civet cats sail on a junk in the harbour.”  Winky hands the galleys back to me.  “This,” I assure her, “will be the definitive, unvarnished, unexpurgated, unimpeachable record.”  She nods slightly.

I lean forward.  “So, can I interest you in a hundred thousand copies?”  She doesn’t have to think about it.


Fri, 27 Apr
The other great event being held to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the handover is the Mainland’s bestowal upon Hong Kong of the cuddly, smiling panda bears Ling-ling and Hsing-hsing, who look startlingly similar to previous ones sent here. 
“This fully demonstrates the love and support of the Central People’s Government for Hong Kong,” said Patrick Ho, Secretary for Home Affairs and Embarrassing Inanity, Not to Mention Bag-Packing, Since He Will Probably Not Be in Office Much Longer, as he dragged one of the beasts by the tail out of a crate at the airport.  The appointment of the portly medic and several other easily forgotten individuals to the Executive Council as Government ministers happens to be dealt with on page 84 of How I Trashed Asia’s Greatest City by Tung Chee-hwa
In an unprecedented display of openness and public consultation, officials asked citizens for suggestions on what to call the two pandas, sifting through 13,000 entries before they found the pair of names that a committee of civil servants had decided months ago behind closed doors.  Ling-ling is Chinese for Amy, a diligent girl – as in a filing clerk.  Hsing-hsing means Stanley, a bringer of good news – as in a mailroom boy.  Under the terms of their contract they must mate at least once a day, to inspire Hong Kong’s determinedly infecund masses to do likewise. 

Are we to believe the creatures’ official biographies, which the Government has helpfully posted on its website?  It all sounds a bit too good to be true.  We are told that both can understand Putonghua, Cantonese and English, and Ling-ling can speak some Italian.  Hsing-hsing likes swimming, enjoys watching basketball and admits to staying up too late sometimes playing on-line fantasy games and eating instant noodles.  His partner is rather more studious, plays the piano and erhu and apparently follows Hong Kong affairs, believing that the city’s political development should be ‘gradual and orderly’ and ‘in light of the actual situation’.